Friday, April 29, 2011

Boston Feel The Need To Justify Their Play

I wanted to write this piece, but Dave Stubbs did it first.

It seems the fans of Boston have a bit of a complex and they need to turn to the sad practice of unfounded accusation to assuage it. An easier fix might be to jettison the Neanderthals they employ throughout their organization.


Worth following Round 2

I remarked yesterday, and I'll reiterate, that it will be worth following Boston in Round 2. Because they are facing the Flyers, a dirtier and more effective version of themselves, they will be cast into the little man role.

If nothing else, it will entertain us to hear the hypocrisy that's only hours away as the Boston organization and its lobotomised radio and TV crews once again become the defenders of the concussed.

Their hypocrisy and own dishonourable behaviour (all telling flat faced lies about not seeing hits, gentlemanly intentions) is almost enough to make you want them lose. The you remember Philadelphia, the team that explores new depths of disgusting every Mike Richards shift and you think twice.

Hey, at least one team we despise will be sent home with their bravado and bluster in a couple of weeks time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game #1-7

Great Season Comes To An End

Details



Date: 27/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Loss: 3-4 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Weber, Plekanec, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Boychuk, Recchi, Kelly, Horton



Play of the game


We got the ultimate excitement tonight by coming back twice. In the end it looked like scoring first was what did it (ha!), but despite that we sure gave it our best. After Bergeron took a dumb (typical Bruin) penalty we got going on the PP. Cammalleri started the play when he gained the line, but almost gave it away with a weak pass at the blue-line. Gionta, however, took that pass and got it over to Pleks on his right with the subtlest of touches. Tom took the puck into the corner and then fed Subban with an incredible cross-ice pass. PK capped off an incredible season with a rocket of a shot, his second of these playoffs.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Brian Gionta
I liked what Brian did in the offensive zone tonight. Defensively wasn't horrendous, but -3 is never a good stat to carry around. He led the team in shots and came oh so close to scoring one or two. With a linemate to compliment him and Gomez this would have been a different series - I guess Chara's hit really worked out for the B's in the end...

Tomas Plekanec - Game Puck
I am happy that Pleks played so well tonight as he should be our best forward in most games. His tying goal was crucial and then his pass on PK's goal was world-class. His face-offs will need work over the summer, though as 20% is just bad. I can live with 40%, but when you lose 4 of 5 things can start to get ugly.

Michael Cammalleri
Mike had better games in this series, but tonight wasn't bad by any stretch. He picked up an assist and was instrument on our third goal. Like Gionta, however, he was -3 and that is something that will sting over the summer I am sure. All in all, though, this was another fantastic playoffs for Camms and I look forward to more of that next April, May and June.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Subban wasn't at his best in the defensive zone tonight, but all in all he was still our best defender. He also scored the most important goal of his life late in the third. He will only get better (hopefully no Phaneuf or Schenn for him) and I look forward to having him line-up with Markov and Gorges next year. Who else will be around is yet to be seen, but PK seems like he'll be an asset for years to come. I also like how he played through the boos, because we all know that players with bad attitudes and who are dirty get booed, oh wait, that is why they boo him, right?

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek got bounced around last night and, less that 20 hours on, came out and played a solid game for the Habs tonight. Only he and Sopel ended up with a positive rating and it was Jaro that led the team in blocked-shots. He didn't have the season nor the playoffs that he did last year, but with time left on his contract I am sure that he will be back. He proved that he can be a 5/6 type guy and can play on both the PP and PK. He should enjoy the summer as I feel that this was a rough year for him physically and he'll do well to get some real rest.

Goaltender

Carey Price
He didn't have his best game of the playoffs, but certainly gave his team a serious chance to win. All in all it was a fantastic season for Price who has shown that he can play a lot of games, win in the regular season and playoffs and shake off bad goals and bad starts. Goaltending like this is what quality teams are built around and I am already looking forward to a healthy, more experienced, more competitive Habs team in 2011/12.


Comments


We started the game poorly and that may have been the difference. It may have been the difference because we could never get a lead, get to our comfort spot. We did well to come back twice, but we are a far harder team to play against when we are leading by a goal or two. It was more of the same for Boston throughout (2 head-shots on Halpern, a spear on the 3rd goal) and I feel that their team is a disgrace to the sport of hockey. They'll move on to face Philly who is as dirty and perhaps dirtier, at least in these playoffs. It is a shame that those teams got through as it will give the media 12 months of saying how teams like Montreal and Buffalo are too small and not tough enough to compete against these forces. The bottom line is that we out-played Boston in this series, not at all times, but over 7 games I do believe we were better. We had better chances, played cleaner, but just didn't get the luck that is so obviously needed to go anywhere in these playoffs (refs are no help whatsoever).

It was a great season when you consider all that happened to this team. Losing Halak last summer, Markov for the whole year and Gorges and Pacioretty for a good chunk of the year all seemed like insurmountable obstacles. The Habs, however, played a fantastic regular season and then got to within a goal of the second round. This team is only getting better and I think that we are getting more and more of the right pieces into the right spots. It will be a long summer with a lot to thing about, but at the end of the day we should be happy with our team as they once again proved that they will always be force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Game #1-6

Montreal Gets Some Bounces And Calls; Off To Boston

Details



Date: 26/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Win: 2-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Gionta
Opposition goalscorers: Seidenberg





Play of the game


It has to be the play that Cammalleri made to give us a Power-Play 8:54 into the first. He shot the puck right at the Boston bench with one goal in mind - to get a call. Had he missed it would have been icing, but he made it count. It is another example of a stupid NHL rule (is that really too many men? have you seen some of the changes), but if there is one thing I love it is to take advantage of stupid rules like that.





Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Brian Gionta
Another great game for the skipper. He scored two goals tonight thanks to great hustle. Whether the NHL likes it or not this was a 3-1 game as far as I am concerned. The sound of a whistle shouldn't be enough to disallow a goal when goalie, defenceman or forward have yet to react to it. This was his first elimination game as the captain of the Habs and I felt that he did a very good job.

Scott Gomez

Gomez played a good, hard game tonight. He caused a lot of turnovers as he was just too quick for the Boston D. He had 5 shots and our dome forwards, in total, had 16 of our 27. The big players stepped up tonight and that is what we need a player like Scott to do. Tomorrow is a new test, let's hope that it is more of the same from #11.

Michael Cammalleri - Game Puck
Mike now leads the NHL with 9 points. Tonight's goal was his 5th game 6 goal for the Habs in just three tries; not too shabby at all. He is a big game player and tonight he played a big game. He played so well, in fact, that Martin used him for an unheard of 25+ minutes. With 20 hours until game 7, however, I just hope that he'll be ready to give us more of the same.


Defencemen

PK Subban
PK did well to get in on both of our goals; an assist and what I'll call a helper. He is very good on the PP as he is patient and timely. Sometimes he can rush it, but tonight, on the 5-on-3's, he waited for the right situation to present itself. In his own end it was more of the same from PK. He backs down from no one, rarely made a mistake and calmed Habs fans around the world right down with his steady play.

Roman Hamrlik
Hammer wanted this one tonight, you could see it on his face. A veteran like Roman knows that there won't be too many more chances like this in his career and, so, he made the most of it. His play in our own end was exemplary as he had 8 blocked-shots (5 more than any other player) and gave us more of what PK did - calm, steady play.


Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey did what he had to tonight, making great saves look easy and giving his team a chance to win it with just two goals. Luck was on his side tonight for the first time in four games and that was certainly a welcome addition in our end of the rink. His trips behind the net, however, continue to be an adventure and as good as he is at controlling the puck I still feel that he takes too many unnecessary risks (like on the Spacek penalty where he was caught behind his own net).




Comments


You'll get your money worth in this series after the Habs had you thinking that it may be done in 5 or less. We were the better team tonight, but we did get some luck and some calls. We did outplay Boston, but it was close to being a loss, that is how important bounces are. It was more of the same from the dirty Bruins as Lucic had no problem face-planting Spacek right into the glass. There was no last-minute back-turn from Jaro, just a good, old-fashioned hit from behind. I am not sure if that play was the reason that we won (I believe that we would have won anyway), but it did make the task easier as it gave us a nice long PP to get things going.

Tomorrow will be more of the same for the Habs as it will be our 3rd road game #7 in 12 months. The last time the Bruins played in a game #7 they blew a 3-0 lead in goals and a 3-0 lead in games. The Habs, of course won both of their's last year. In fact, we have won our last four game #7's and haven't lost since we lost to the Bruins in 1994. But, we all know that history means nothing, it can only support present arguments. So, we have our work to do, but we are all in the same boat with 20 hours off and a flight to Massechusetts. The Habs have been a good team this series, probably the better one, but that means nothing now. Now we have to be the best team tomorrow in one game, that is all that counts, that is what our season has come down to.

Benching Pouliot

A Question Of Priority

Benoit Pouliot took a fateful penalty in Game #3. Following 2 games and a period without a point, Ben charged into Johnny Boychuk as the second man and ended up serving 2 minutes. Although the Bruins didn't technically score on the PP, they did score their 3rd (and gamewinning) goal within 10 seconds of its end while the Habs were still scrambling.

Pouliot played 2 more shifts in that game, and with Halpern's return, none since.

While the penalty was extremely ill-advised, and warrants a lesson of the sort being handed out right now. On the cusp of Game #6, however, the banishment of Pouliot turns into something bigger: a decision on organizational priority.


To bench Pouliot now reinforces the message to Ben and to other young players that the playoffs are a special brand of hockey where concentration has to come before whimsy.

The other side of the coin is that Pouliot represents a better player than many of those in the line up. A player who can break defenses on his own, who can control quick passes, who can score goals under tight checking.

The choice for the Habs, therefore: This year or future years?


This year

To go for it this year, the Canadiens need to answer Claude Julien's defensive adaptations. No longer can the Tom Pyatts of the world just carry down the boards. That avenue of attack has been sealed off. To go for it this year, Martin has to look to increase his goalscoring and the threat of goalscoring (to push Bruins defenders to make mistakes again).

Pouliot isn't going to storm the scene and take over the series, but he does offer a known quantity in terms of offensive know how. This season he scored 13 goals while playing on different lines. Never once was he given the full benefit of Gomez or Plekanec, yet he found ways to make it work for certain periods of the season.

Over the season, Benoit scored 0.856 goals per 60 minutes of play and averaged 1.975 points per 60 minutes. As a goalscorer and point getter this places him in the top 6 on the team. Consider also that he was on the ice for a total of 41 goals this season (36 of which were at ES).

This puts him in good stead vs. the current top 6 players and a good distance ahead of the others. Tom Pyatt, who rarely misses a game, was only on the ice for 12 goals all season long. Pouliot also offers promise over Eller (0.49 G/60 and 1.19 Pts/60), Moen (0.35 G/60 and 0.92 Pts/60) and White (0.50 G/60 and 1.24 Pts/60).

I think adding Ben back in would accomplish a few things like adding a third line that can score (much like the Ryder line that has troubled the Habs so much), giving another option for when Moen dries up production on the 2nd line again and just add a little bit of danger to the minds of Boston defenders who mustn't shudder when they see Pyatt and Weber coming.

I think adding Ben back in would be an indication that the choice to win tonight and to win as much as possible this season represents as big a priority as anything else to the organization.


Future seasons

The choice to defer success now for success later wouldn't be a new choice for the Habs. Three years ago, when the team gave Price his baptism by fire, they did the same.

Benching Pouliot is more than a lesson to Pouliot. It is a signal to everyone, rookie and veteran alike, that straying from the core strategy will not be tolerated - the core strategy of course being discipline under fire.

It's a valid stance. Discipline is valuable based on the season the Habs have just had. The Canadiens worst slip ups and defeats came during moments of indiscipline and largesse. To eliminate silly penalties is to eliminate one of the team's main weaknesses.

It's also valid given the make up of the squad. Price, Eller, Pouliot, Subban, Weber, Pyatt, Desharnais, White. These are all players that will be here for a while. These are all players being molded. It's hard to see it when it's taking place, but some trouble seasons, some dead-end playoff runs are valuable learning grounds. Without losing and the pressure of having to win, the precocious talent often misses being tempered into the steel that can battle through 4 rounds. If the goal is a Cup, and it should be, then hardening the competitors for a Cup run is a vital step.

If Pouliot is benched one more time, with the threat of elimination, it will mark for me the organization's priority for the future. A recognition that the team may not be there yet and lessons gathered now may be more helpful than a second round berth.



Mutually exclusive goals?

If you know our blog, then you know our thinking on this. Losing Markov, recent trades, surges of other teams, these are all lessons that show us chances are precious. Planning for the future is nice, but there are no guarantees there will be a future (at least in the playoffs).

What's more (and you can probably tell from the undeveloped argument for the future above), lessons don't have to be contained in packages that run over a year. And there are more lessons to be learned than the one Pouliot is supposed to be soaking up in the pressbox. Think for example of the lessons that a young team could learn from a disciplined couple of games from Pouliot, think of the lessons they could learn from adding passion to discipline, think of what they could learn from winning tonight's game, tomorrow's game.

My position (although I can see the other side) is that Pouliot needs to play. As probably the fourth best pure talent on the team in front of the defenders and an unpredictable proposition, he's too important a piece to leave out of the battle plans. I believe that the Habs dearth of scoring and chance generation is a bigger problem now than discipline - particularly in light of the fact referees are taking care of discipline regardless of play by now.

I hope the team of coaches and managers think this through and graps that what may seem like a black and white choice could be a winning compromise where present and future goals are sought and achieved.

Go Habs Go.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Game #1-5

Heartbreak In Boston

Details



Date: 23/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Loss: 1-2 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Halpern
Opposition goalscorers: Marchand, Horton



Play of the game


Thomas' save on Gionta was probably the play of the game, the play of the series. The save was a good one, but I think the play I am really thinking about was Gionta's shot. A nice give-and-go with Moen meant that Brian ended up with a lot of the net to shoot at. He didn't get the best shot off, however, and gave Boston life when maybe they shouldn't have had any. That was our big chance and we made Thomas look great and then, a few minutes later, it came back to haunt us.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Brian Gionta
The captain gave it his all tonight and it showed on his face. He was exhausted at the end as I am sure most of the players were. He may not have scored, but did a great job to go to the net and test Thomas. In all he had 7 shots; that led the Habs.

Jeff Halpern

He scored our only goal on one of his 3 shots. Beyond that goal, which was obviously a huge moment for the Habs, he had a very strong, 2-way game. I liked what he was doing along the boards and at the top of our zone as his fight was really paying off. He also had a fantastic face-off night as his 73% was the highest in the game.

David Desharnais
I am thrilled for David that he got a shot on the second line as he once again deserved it. Although one of the smallest players on the Habs he certainly showed how big of a heart he has as he gave it his absolute all throughout the game. He kept fighting all along and almost played a hero's role on a few separate occasions.

Defencemen

PK Subban
40 minutes for PK tonight and the crazy thing is that he didn't look like he was tired. He played well throughout; smart and patient. He skated so well with the puck and each of his spins looked just too easy that you wonder why no one else can do them.

Hal Gill
Gill had some moments where he looked like his regular season self from 2 years ago, moments where I yelled at the TV. But, there were other moments, many more of them, where he made amazing plays and stopped Boston from getting anywhere near the net. He was unlucky to be there on Boston's first goal as it was the first of two bounces to go their way, a department that they beat us in by two tonight.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
He was two very unlucky bounces away from a huge shutout win. They got the bounces and the calls tonight and we didn't. Carey was the best player on either team as he was thwarting Boston every couple of minutes. It was big save after big save. He looked so calm out there, could it be that my heart, in my living room, was pumping more than his tonight? Crazy.


Comments


You can't tell me that the Bruins didn't break a rule in the last 50 minutes of this game, well, you can if you are a ref. I can't blame Boston for breaking every rule in the book (apart from the shooting the puck over the glass rule - for some reason the only callable penalty in the playoffs as we all know it is the worst thing that one can do out there) because that is the type of hockey the fans (didn't ask too many people that I know) and the league wants. At the end of the day though we got unlucky (a Ryder glove save, a Chara leg save, two bounces right to them in our crease) and they didn't. It is a shame as I felt we played as well, if not better, for the majority of this game. We didn't dominate and we were certainly dominated at times, but we did have a lot of chances and played some good hockey at both ends, especially in nets. The Habs could probably be up in this series, they could probably already have won it, but at the end of the day we aren't getting the goals we need. Every game ends up being too tight and you can't go far if you always have to go to OT or win by 1 (let's forget 1993).

Game 6 will be intense and Boston will likely come out hungrier, so let's hope the ghosts can give us a few bounces so that we can go back to Boston and try, one more time, to beat them in a winner-take-all game.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Game #1-4

When You Miss That Many Chances, What Do You Expect?

Details



Date: 21/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Loss: 4-5 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Sopel, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Ryder (2), Ference, Bergeron, Kelly



Play of the game


Price made an incredible save on Boychuk in the third. He was sprawled out, at at the Bruins' mercy, all they had to do was shelf the puck, but Carey out-waited him and snagged what could have been a very deflating goal. In turns out that they did tie it up and they, of course, did win it, but at the time this was crucial and, all in all, it was our nicest play on the night.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei was our second best forward all night long. He competed for the puck, took a lot of shots and had a lot of chances. I didn't see one bad play and saw a lot of good out there. I am, therefore, amazed that 5 other forwards played more than him, including Travis Moen who, I think, is lucky to even be playing at all right now. Kostitsyn needs to see more ice as he is becoming a key to this series. Oh ya, he scored a fantastic goal.

Michael Cammalleri
- Game Puck
Mike had 3 points and scored a goal, but wasn't the main contributor on any of those goals. That shows how one can get points, but not necessarily be playing their best. In his case, however, he did have a decent game beyond the points and, quite frankly, no one else stepped it up any more; although the other forwards in the dome came very close.

David Desharnais
The rookie had a great game tonight, one of his best, and was the main reason that we scored our first goal. He played well enough tonight to warrant a little more than 11 minutes. In fact, if we aren't going to get off our high-horse (Martin) and give Pouliot a chance it may be time to put Desh on the wing beside Gomez and give him 5-8 more minutes per game. A re-think of how to group forwards #6-12 wouldn't go amiss as I think we are being beat in that regard. No problems with the top 5.

Defencemen

PK Subban
This is bittersweet as I didn't think that PK had one of his better games. The main reason that he is in here is that I didn't really like what I saw from Sopel, Spacek, Wiz or Hammer. At least PK scored the go-ahead goal and wasn't on the ice for any goals against. I didn't, however, like his poor line-change in OT (Moen is more to blame, however) and how he was trying way too hard to be the hero on the late PP rather than trying to distribute the puck.

Hal Gill
20 minutes, +1 and not on the ice for any Bruin goals are good stats to sport. I also felt that he played a strong game and didn't make too many mistakes. If I could change one thing, however, it would be that he would take low, hard shots on net instead of going for the weak-wristers every single time.

Goaltender

Alex Auld
Price wasn't the reason that we lost and is the main reason that we have 2 wins in this series, but after 5 goals on 35 shots I would have to try to shake things up. We blew 1-0, 3-1, 4-3 leads and the whole team must have a look at themselves. I am sure that he will rebound and I hope that it only gets better from here. My one other hope is that the Bruins don't start going glove-side all of the time because I think that may still be an area of relative weakness for him.


Comments


We started well, but you knew that Boston wouldn't just lie down. So, more of those early chances had to go in. That is where we miss a guy like Pacioretty as I am sure he would be able to score about half of Moen's great chances. Beyond the offence, though, how about our D? Our solid, shut-down style was not on display tonight, no, instead we looked confused and made too many mistakes. It wasn't just our defencemen either, it was our whole team defence. We did play a decent game, when you look at it on a whole, and it is nice to be tied at 2 after 4, but if you break it down little, by little one would expect more of a team that was up 2-0 in games and 3-1 in goals tonight. As upsetting and disappointing as it is, however, we must forget it and start anew in Boston. What has happened has happened and it is important to focus on winning the next game, the new all-important game. We can look at whys and hows and who to blames, heck, we can even ask why Chara is allowed to fully obstruct in OT (I guess the refs have no problem with cheating affecting the outcome, so long as it is not them), but at the end of the day that won't get us anywhere. It is a frustrating game, with frustrating opponents and officials, but we all love the Habs enough to look beyond that and do what it takes to take game #5. Good luck everyone.

Fitness:

The Hidden Decider

When Jacques martin spoke to the media during the first few days of his tenure in Montreal, one of the things he remarked on was the unsatisfactory fitness level of the team he saw before him. His comments (I wish I could find them now) bordered on alarm and his promise was that he would sort it out - but that it would take a long time.

Playing hockey takes a lot of energy and playing a full game at full stretch requires fitness. In the past, these requirements were underappreciated and teams won anyway simply because no one was fit. Sure there were occasional exceptions like Brind'amour and Chelios, but these players keeping fit were viewed as anomalies.

Somewhere along the line, though, some astute coaches realised that they could get wins out of lesser talent by taking some simple steps: making and keeping their competitors fit.

Admit it, the first time you saw the Senators conducting post-game interviews on a stationary bike, you balked. A few years later when the Habs couldn't hold a candle to the Senators, perhaps like me, your views evolved.

Jacques Martin, the common thread here, exploited the fitness imbalance in the league back then. With any luck, he'll be able to exploit it now. The advantage on fitness, which the Canadiens didn't possess in Fall 2009 is starting to show. It's rarely if ever mentioned, but fitness might just be the key for the Canadiens to beat these Bruins.


Here's what makes me think the Habs have the advantage:

1) Game 1
The Canadiens came out fierce and strong and took quick advantage of their sprint. But other than the quick goal, the hallmark of Game 1 was nullifying chances. Most observers agree that although the Habs let up a number of shots, few were threatening. I suggest this was in part due to the fact the Habs worked hard to always stay in shooting lanes, but late in the game partly due to the fact the Bruins were tiring and unable to break coverage. Just when the adrenaline should have caused them to surge most, the Bruins faltered. Witness 18 second period shots, 5 third period shots.

2) Zdeno Chara
Dehydration. I've gone there as an athlete. Cramps, dizziness. It always happens after lots of exertion. Chara may well be sick as well, but Game 1's toll on him was hard, and he adapted in Game 3. While he may be the best defender in the game, he may not be the fittest man in the game. I'd suggest that if he was worn down once due to the Canadiens effect on him, it could happen again.

3) Game 3, second half
Down by goals, the Habs had trouble getting traction in Game 3, but once they started pushing the sprinting legs, they created a breakthrough. To me it was evident they broke the Bruins at one point - that sprint you see in a 1500 m race where the pack breaks and the leaders appear to fly away.


Last game, it took the Canadiens time to start pressing the Bruins into expending their energy. Martin knows this was a mistake, as it flew in the face of the advantage he has tried to exploit. If the Habswant to win this game, this series. I'd suggest they listen to their coach. The Bruins are ripe to be worn down, and the Canadiens look capable of doing that.

Fitness. Seems so simple. It's amazing that nearly 100 years into this league a team of professional athletes might exploit this. Thankfully for the Habs, they seem to have noticed the low-hanging fruit before their rival Bruins have.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Goal All Important?

Before the playoffs, I read an article that said the team that would score the first goal would go on to win the entire series nearly 80% of the time. Now that three games in this series have been won by the team that scored first, the clever clever media are jumping all over the "all-important" first goal.

As usual with these half-baked stories, the analysis ends at the immediate past. The crux of any conclusion being that last week the team in the Boston Montreal series that scored first won.

Terribly scientific. 3 games sampled, what more could one ask for?

The first elephant in the room is that both these teams just played a whole season's worth of hockey during which they demonstrated many tendencies and displayed many habits and trends. One might think a glance at what happened in the season might be in order. But wouldn't that be good reporting?

Let's do that, shall we?


Boston and Montreal are both quality with the lead

This season Boston posted an outstanding 30-6-6 record when they had the lead. Top-notch defense and good chippy offense all season, you'd expect that to happen. But how about Montreal: 32-6-6, even better. Converting 44 first goals into 70 points in the regular season.


Boston did not roll over an die in the regular season

To go with their impressive record when scoring first, the Bruins also had a quality comeback record. 16-19-5 for the season. This was top 5 in the league by raw comeback wins and also by percentages. Only Washington with 23 comeback wins from 47 first goal deficits was better.

Montreal on the whole was not as good at coming back. Their record for 2010-11 was 12-24-2. The team didn't completely give up when scored on first, but they didn't do quite as well as the elite teams in the league. That is, if you consider the entire season.

As we know things over the season change significantly. 6 months is a long time and besides streaks and slumps, there can be significant changes in personnel. For the Habs, one of the big changes came at the end of December with Wisniewski coming in to replace Markov who had missed all but 7 games to that point. Gorges was also out, so Subban was placed with Hal Gill.

Round about that time, frustration was also mounting with Habs fans that if the team didn't score first, they'd be down and out (often being shutout, actually). It wasn't good. LIW posted this article that illustrated the issue.

Long story short. the Habs got better, they learned to come back. In fact from December 31st on (a 44-game span) the team went behind a total of 23 times. but instead of losing the vast majority, the Habs pulled out 9 wins and 2 OTLs from those first goal deficits (20 points in the standings).

This was a turning point in this regard, as one can see that prior to the turn of the year, the Habs record was 3-12-1 when allowing the first goal.

In fairness, we must see if the Bruins also turned the same trick. interestingly, they did. In their last 44 games, the Bruins actually allowed the first goal 21 times and posted 22 points (10-9-2) from those games.


Well so what?
The finding here is that while both the Bruins and Canadiens were formidable shut-down teams, it turns out that both teams were also pretty excellent comeback teams, particularly in the new year (or only in the New Year in the Habs case). The finding is something that plays out before our eyes. When the Canadiens were winning in Game 1, the Bruins weren't down and out and for a good stretch looked like the better team, fully capable of closing the gap and wining. Ditto for the result on Monday night, when the Habs came within inches of tying and taking the momentum from their superior second half of the game into a comeback bid overtime.

All that to say, it's not as simple as who scores first. It's not enough to score first. The first goal is but one goal, and unless backed up by another goal or shutout goaltending (which usually takes some pretty exceptional saves) then it is but one goal.

Boston won the other day because they scored 3 goals, not because they scored first. Montreal won in Boston because first Carey price, then some good luck made their 2 and 3 goals stand up.

Scoring first is important, but let's not make it more than it is. After all, we already have faceoffs for that.

I'll go further. The goal that seals the first comeback victory in this series will be more important that any first goal to date.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Game #1-3

Slow Start Too Much To Overcome

Details



Date: 18/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Loss: 2-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn, Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Krejci, Horton, Peverley, Kelly



Play of the game


Kostitsyn's goal was quite something, one of his best ever. The funny thing is, though, he may have had a few more highlight reel goals had Thomas not been so strong in the third. The goal started with a great pick-off by Hamrlik who got the puck to Camms. Mike gained the zone and then left it for Andrei who made an absolute meal of Chara (Norris candidate? for defence?) and then slid it by a surprised Thomas.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn - Game Puck
Andrei was our best player tonight as he very nearly scored enough goals for a complete comeback by himself. Once his linemates got going too, in the third, they were a dominant line and I simply couldn't wait for them to get back on the ice whenever they went off. He was the only player to end with a positive +/-.

Michael Cammalleri

Cammalleri can be better than he was, but still did a good job of outplaying his Bruin coverage. He was in on both goals and was very nearly in on a third. I would like to see him shooting more, however, and taking shots from the middle of the ice (if possible) and not always from the outside. He will be a key player in the next game as the Bruins should have their hands full worrying about Andrei and Pleks - Mike may be able to fly under the radar.

Tomas Plekanec
I hated the way that Pleks played during the first two periods. His play on a PP late in the second was some of the worst I have seen from him in a while as everything seemed rushed and haphazard. He had a fabulous third period, however, and ended up being a positive factor in the game. His goal should remind all of us that Thomas can be beaten quite easily at times - as he has been by the Habs over the years.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK does the deserve the recognition tonight. He has been great all series and tonight he was a big reason that we almost got back in the game. He is easily having his way with Lucic as that match-up has become quite the one-sided affair. I hope that PK will keep this play up as the series goes on and I wonder if (and hope) he'll bring a goal or two to the table.

James Wisniewski
Hamrlik could have been in here with either of these two tonight, but just missed out. The Wiz played another strong game at both ends. He almost scored on his only shot of the game and I hope that he gets a chance to unload it a bit more in the next couple of games. As much as I like Subban's shot from the left-side on the PP, I would like to see James take more from the middle of the ice as I do think it is the best one-timer on the team.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I have said all along that one day Carey's puck-handling would cost us a goal at exactly the wrong time. Well, tonight was that time. His play on the third goal was inexcusable as it was a pass straight to two Bruins as he was way too far out of his net. There was another play that would have been a goal had Pleks not saved the day. It is a shame because apart from an empty-netter, a goal that may not been a goal there was only the one other goal to look at. If Price stays in his net and doesn't make those passes we may have won this game and may have been up 3-0; who knows. Luckily his play during the rest of the time shows that it was a mistake and we all just have to move on from it.


Comments


3-0 would have been quite something, but it was not to be. It certainly could have been the case, mind you. I would say that we were the better team tonight, not by far, but we were better than Boston. They beat us, however, because they started the game 26 minutes earlier than us and had incredible goaltending in the third. That third period was perhaps our best offensive period of the series and that is reason enough to be happy. I think that after being down 0-3 we proved to ourselves that Boston is indeed the team that we beat in their building and is indeed a team that we can outplay.

What has to be done, therefore, is quite clear - we have to start the game well. I think that we have all of the tools to be better than them at every position, but we can't afford to get down. Tonight we went down, got lazy, got scared, took stupid penalties and that all caught up with us. We have to set the tone early, no matter what. That doesn't mean scoring first (a goal can be lucky and can happen for either team, at any time), but means that we must outplay, outwork and outchance them early on. I don't expect that to keep up for 60 minutes, but the sooner we start playing that way on Thursday, the sooner we'll be putting doubt into the minds of the Bruins.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Game #1-2

Habs & Bruins Summaries

More stats.


Montreal Canadiens



It was what it was, but this is how teams that believe in their goalie behave after getting an early lead. Guys who put all their belief in average shooting percentages won't like these Habs again this year. Still some players (like Cammalleri) come out looking pretty darn good.


Boston Bruins


Kaberle! How not to direct good shots at the net...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Game #1-2

Montreal Take Firm Hold In Boston

Details



Date: 16/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Win: 3-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Darche, Weber
Opposition goalscorers: Bergeron



Play of the game


Too many choices, how nice is that? I wanted to say the save that Price made at 2-0 on Lucic, but think that it has to be our first goal instead. Boston were fragile tonight and, so, to be able to go up early against a team that is down a game and their best player was a big deal. It all started when Wisniewski made a great play to steal the puck in the neautral zone. A big shot meant a huge rebound and on the door-step was Cammalleri the poacher. That goal cemented the doubt that they had in their heads; it was the most important Habs goal of the year thus far.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Mathieu Darche
Darche scored a very important goal to put the Habs up by 2; it ended up being the game-winner. His linemates weren't as dominant tonight, but he himself played a good playoff game. He, along with Moen, led the Habs tonight in the combined total of shots, hits and blocked-shots with 8. I have a feeling that those 3 categories will be as important in the upcoming games vs. Boston as they have been thus far.

Michael Cammalleri
- Game Puck
Mike set the tone early as he was in on both goals within the first two and a half minutes (not a bad start). His line played well and I felt that Moen did a good job alongside Mike and Pleks. Cammalleri is the type of player that seems to able to score when needed, a big-game player; let's just hope that this is simply the start of it.

Lars Eller
The other two members on his line deserve a mention (Pyatt and Weber) as they competed all night long. Lars, I thought, was the best of that group, leading the charge throughout the entire game. Believe it or not this playoff rookie led the game with 4 hits.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
+2, filled in on the PK formidably and had a very good read on the third goal as it was his interception that led to the goal. Hammer is a good example of what we have and Boston don't. See, he can do very good work in his own end, but he can also 'relance l'attaque' better than any of the D that they had in their line-up tonight.

James Wisniewski
James got the ball rolling with an early steal and assist and kept the good play up throughout. There was a questionable hit from behind, but at least he stood up for himself when Hnidy came looking for trouble. I hope that he'll shoot more than the once that he did tonight if needed, but can see his value beyond the shots when he plays a solid game in our own end and we win by 2.

Goaltender

Carey Price
This is the type of goaltending that wins playoff games and playoff series. 1 goal in 2 games to go along with some of the most relaxed, confident and positionally-sound 'tending that I have ever seen from any NHL goalie. He got a bit lucky with some posts tonight, but had those shots gone in I am sure that he would (as well as his teammates) have been up to the task of taking Boston down.


Comments


This is a dream start for Montreal. We now head back home with 2 wins in the bank and 3 of the next 5 games (if needed) in Montreal. Like I said, though, it is a start, not the end. Winning 2 more games won't be any easier because we have won these 2. We have collapsed before from this kind of lead and must be careful to not let that happen again. The positive is, of course, that we are playing Montreal Canadien hockey which is a better product and more successful type of hockey than Boston Bruin hockey. They can keep hitting us after the puck is gone as much as they like because that is the point, the puck is gone. We are moving the puck up, through their team and they seem to always be one step behind, always playing catch-up. We've lost to this team though, we've lost big, so I would still be worried. We have to be worried that things may not always go our way. The big saves may go Thomas' way, not Price's, the posts at their end may be the ones ringing, not ours and the refs may start giving them more of the benefit of the doubt. So, we must keep the foot on the gas. Scoring early is, and always will be, key and that must be our only priority on Monday night. I like watching the Bruins play catch-up hockey, simply because they are not very good at it at all.

Game #1-1

Habs & Bruins Summaries

Because it's playoff time, I think we need to look at more than just goals and assists. Here are the extended summaries for both the Habs and Bruins.





Montreal Canadiens


Despite what looked like a serial bombardment, no one actually comes out looking too badly. It's worth noting Plekanec had a heck of a game if he came out on top of Fenwick, since he was on the ice for plenty of possession against - this means he was on for plenty of blocked shots and shots for.


Boston Bruins


Most informative for the Bruins is the colouration of Fenwick and Ch +/-. they do not match. This largely shows what we all saw - that Boston had lots of shots and missed shots, but not that many chances. Kaberle was a particular standout in getting the balance wrong as he outshot the Habs, but got quite badly outchanced. They ;ll know this now, but will they be able to correct?


Thanks is due to NHL.com for tracking so many things and to Olivier at En Attendant le Nordiques who diligently tracks scoring chances for and against to share with all Canadiens fans.

Legend:
GP: Game played
G: Goals
A: Assists
P: Points
PM: [Goals for (ES + SH)] - [goals against (ES + PP)], aka plus/minus
Ch +/-: [Chances for] - [chances against] at ES
Fenwick: [Shots on and off net for] - [Shots on and off net against] at ES
Corsi: [Shots on and off net for + those blocked] - [Shots on and off net against + blocked shots] at ES

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Most Damaging Words

To win any games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a team has to overcome another team just as hungry if not hungrier than their own. So it's a particularly telling thing to get words from a GM, a leader of a team, that spell out medium strength goals.

Reporters like to ask loaded questions. The one to Peter Chiarelli couldn't have been more loaded than:

"How far do you think the Bruins have to go in the playoffs for this season to be deemed a success?"

Round 3, in a roundabout way, was his answer.

Round 3? Where does one come up with such a response?

All fans of conference finalists know that going out in Round 3 is just as painful (no, more painful) than going out in Round 1 or 2. Everyone knows that the other team in Round 3 won't have those meek ambitions, and will have a nice time disposing of the team that is roundly patting themselves on the back for their successful season.

In one sense, Peter Chiarelli undercut the ambition of the Boston Bruins, which like any playoff team before a game has been played should harbour only one ambition - to win and win and win again.

To the outsider, Peter Chiarelli also managed to look like a fool. His team may have won the Eastern Conference two years ago, but last season they narrowly made the playoffs and then had the worst collapse in modern history in the second round. IN other words, coming into the season, they were well in the pack. And then a season in a division with Ottawa and Toronto and a Conference with plenty of weak teams, they put up a respectable, but not terrifying 103 points. This put them 4th in the East (not in the top 2), and with a legitimate case that Tampa is better, they don't make all lists as favourites for progression.

So his comments also managed to overestimate his team and in so doing put undue pressure on the group. Yes it would be disappointing to lose to a lower seed, but it would not be a surprise - Montreal has won the season and ages-long series. The second round would likely present a sterner challenge.


Chiarelli made a right mess with his comments. The quote that was made from his response was quite possibly the worst thing that could be attributed to the leader of a team on the eve of a playoffs. Over-evaluation and too little ambition all at once.

I'm not sure that what we saw from the Bruins was a response to this, but as those words loom over a team exhibiting their classic tendencies already, it may only be a matter of time anyway.

All successful playoff teams hope to get inside their opponents heads early, the head of the opposition coach to instill fear and doubt. Carey Price and Tomas Plekanec owe Peter Chiarelli a big thank you for starting that part of their task early.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Game #1-1

Habs Commit To Bruin Beating Plan

Details



Date: 14/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Win: 2-0

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gionta (2)
Opposition goalscorers: None



Play of the game


Fitting that the game threw a steal our way so we could highlight the puck battle aspect of the game in the play of the game. Milan Lazic skating down the wing was completely and easily stripped of the puck. It became the play of the game because all the actors knew what was to happen next. Gomez took control flush and found his wingers, a simple drop to Gionta became an open chance down the favoured right wing. Soft puck play was followed by soft goaltending as a puck squeezed by Thomas into the net. This ended the game.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
So close to being the player of the game. Aside from missing some glorious chances, he laid down a perfect game. He shadowed Krejci and brought back visions of Koivu on Thornton by not only plugging the offense, but also getting the better chances all night. We asked him to bring something more, he did.

Brian Gionta
This was all for naught if Montreal forwards do what Boston forwards did. They nearly did and maybe would have, but for the 30 goal-man (a season and 3 minutes in anyway). Gionta scored two goalscorer's goals and gave Boston problems all night when he was in their zone.

Scott Gomez
Played the team game and made the only two successful scoring chances of the whole game, for either team. Gomez gets his fair share of criticism, so he should get praise when he deserves it. The value of a player like Gomez goes further than his superficial stats. Every time I see the Canadiens turn back in their own zone, I remember how before Gomez and co. this never happened. This wasn't the perfect puck possession game, but choice moments of calm kept it from being worse. Worth saying after a win.

Defencemen

Hal Gill
Classic playoff game for Gill. He took the looser rules and made his game fit them. At one point I saw him lightly holding a players back until the ref turned his way. Gill played lots against the Bruins "big" line and did the business on Lucic and Horton. It kept shots sensible and saveable.

James Wisniewski
Addition of the year on this team. On any team? Certainly glad we didn't hold out for paying more for Kaberle in this case. James was part of a second excellent pairing that shutout a very good second Bruins unit. Did Recchi play? That's a compliment to Wiz.

Goaltender

Carey Price – Game Puck
The perfect game to start a series from our goalie. There were bad angle shots, hard shots, a couple of what looked like screen shots, easy shots - Carey handled them all. He told us he learned a lot from watching the playoffs last spring, and now we know for sure that's true as he showed the pressure soaking Halak goaltending of last spring in perfect rendition. I wouldn't want to be a Bruins fan watching this goalie, because Price now gives that nauseating impression that he can make quality scoring chances into easy looking saves.


Comments


A slowish end to the season fogs into the memory as the Canadiens came out flying, took a lead and then played the perfect safe game. We heard how the team was getting outshot, we saw how the possession was lengthy at times in the Canadiens end for the opposition, but the team didn't mind. That's because the Bruins were taking the outside shots without asking questions and the Habs were happy to continue on that path - the one they were laying.

The win itself is critical. It at once gives the Canadiens home ice advantage and puts to rest any notion that the Bruins were out to manhandle the Canadiens. yet it is still just a game. Unlike a hockey game, a series win requires more than a single score, and the Bruins will have learned something from this game. Comfort must come from the knowledge that a stubborn vet like Julien might actually feel his team did the right things by outshooting the Habs and might preach sticking with no change. Martin still needs to see the next move when the Bruins do wake-up, as I'm not sure they will surprise another team with the Hal Gill usher out.

Enjoy the lead Habs fans. Your well-coached team won a well-designed victory.

Stanley Cup 2011, Round One

Key Bruins Players

The Bruins haven't won anything yet, except maybe the hearts and minds of the reporters who would never choose Montreal anyway.

If they are to beat Montreal, I'd expect some of these players to be key.


Nathan Horton

I wonder if Floridians trotted out the 2003 draft every time they saw Horton play. Heaven knows they could have. After all, all the same players were taken after him as Andrei Kostitsyn, but you could add 7 more.

Essentially Horton is a second fiddle, which is not what you want from a 3rd overall pick, but it suits Boston 8 years later just fine. Still, if Boston hope to dominate anything, their top line will have to be there for them. 26-goal man Horton will have to be there in his first playoff games ever after 500 inconsequential match-ups.


Tomas Kaberle

Kaberle is key for so many reasons. For one thing, he is the second defenceman on the team for a PP that will need to fire. For another thing, he represents the lot that has been thrown in for this playoffs, as a first rounder and another recent one made their way to Toronto.

Kaberle wasn't excellent since the trade from TO, but he has been excellent many times before against the Canadiens. It will be up to the Czech to take the load off Chara, who already has to carry most of the defending and Big Badness mantle. If Kaberle can't help Zdeno on the PP, neutral zone regrouping may be the least of the Bruins worries.


Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron looked like he might win me my pool this year. Ultimately, he ended up costing me in the end. One goal and a few points to close the season was poor. In fact, take away his Christmas to All-Star break flourish, and he's not outshining Gomez by as much as his numbers suggest.

And it won't be a surprise that Marchand and Recchi go down with their centre, just as they followed him in the season.

Patrice has the ability to be a playoff performer, as he's shown it in the past. But like Gomez, it won't be enough to live on reputation, a turnaround for the Bruins team will provide them the two lines they use to vaunt their depth.


Adam McQuaid

One of the potential greenhorns at the back end, he's impressed against the Canadiens with his grit and even his scoring on a couple of occasions. But that was a couple of regular season games we're talking about.

How McQuaid fares, or Kampfer, or whoever is D #6 will be critical to the Bruins, because a counterattack offense is not kind to weak links.

From what I've seen so far, I'd also mark him down as a temper risk. Playoff hockey can bring out some intense moments, and a series like Boston:Montreal is far worse in that regard. A young hothead sounds like a good idea on paper, but one can also tip a series the wrong way for his team if discipline is lost.


Michael Ryder

A player like Michael Ryder is currently keeping the highly touted Tyler Seguin (he that was nearly picked ahead of Taylor Hall for playoff/grit reasons) on the bench.

We've seen this from Julien before, when he benched Phil Kessel for being too talented as he watched his team lose to Carey Price without being able to score.

If Michael Ryder plays really well, he could be a thorn in Montreal's side. If he plays moderately well, however, he could do Montreal a big favour by staying in the lineup and costing Boston in their ultimate offensive potential. And if he plays badly too soon, he could inadvertently help his team by making the right lineup choice so much clearer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stanley Cup 2011, Round One

Key Canadiens Players

Each player matters in a playoff series, but some matter more than others. No offense to Ryan White and David Desharnais, but here are the players I think could make key differences in key areas for the Montreal Canadiens over the next couple of weeks.


Carey Price

I write Carey Price, I could have just written goalie. The goalie is always a key player in a series. A goalie playing well can turn the tide, just as a goalie playing badly can turn the tide (see recent playoff examples).

Carey Price is the goalie, and this is important. It's important because Carey doesn't currently have a playoff record he would want me to share with you. But there is something he would want me to share -- he did once have a great playoff record. He did once have numbers for a playoff career to be proud of. Importantly, those were accumulated vs. the Claude Julien Bruins with their on-again-off-again scoring. As well as that, Carey has a season to his credit now that endorses his lasting improvement. He has a video reel full of glove saves since RJ Umberger last scored on him. He's better.

He'll need to be better than before to help the Canadiens avoid a sweep. He'll need to be as good or better than he's been since January to help his team win in this round.

Now that I've covered the obvious, I can move on...


Tomas Plekanec

The last time the Canadiens faced the Bruins in the playoffs, Plekanec was benched. Despite the lack of a superior option, he was put aside for a game -- that's just how uselessly he was playing.

Last season, Tomas wasn't able to be the man of the hour in the Philly series, but he played a big role in the first two match-ups of the spring as checker and agitator, with occasional offensive contribution.

This year, I think Tomas has to find something more. I think Tomas has to step up and lead the Canadiens top line.

His record against Boston this season (4 second assists in 6 games) doesn't promise that this performance will come for nothing. It will have to come from within Pleks. It'll have to be a triumph of will. Frankly, it's time for the veteran centre to take his best regular season play and implement it into the playoffs, else his contract might not look the steal of 2010 that we'd all been thinking.


Scott Gomez

Gomez is a key. Not because he needs to justify his contract (indeed he should try to at some point), but because the centres after him can't be counted on to deliver in the crunch.

Fortunately for Gomez, his playoff history shows some grit (if not a flood of points). Also, he'll be thankful to face the Bruins. Against this bruising team, Scott scored 2 goals and posted 5 points (acting like a 25 goal, 65 point man -- as opposed to the 32 point scoring 5 goalscorer he was against the other 28 teams).

Gomez will miss Max Pacioretty who exploited the Bruins cement feet like no other Hab. But he'll appreciate Brian Gionta, he of 5 Bruins goals this season, together with whoever else will be receiving his shot-shunning passes.


Benoit Pouliot

I suspect that at some point someone on a line other than the two I've highlighted above will need to score. Last year Dominic Moore picked up the slack for all the support crew with many a timely goal. This year, no Moore.

Pouliot is the most talented of the remaining forwards. he is big and he is the only Habs player to actually beat up a Bruin.

At some point, whether to save his team, his teammate, or his career, Benoit Pouliot is going to have wake up and start dominating the light coverage he receives. He did it for stretches before Jacques Martin tattered his confidence with minor league promotions and Benny-benchings.

He's a big boy now, though. He must realise that no one is going to win the Cup he wants for him, no one is going to stop taking stupid penalties for him. No one is going to turn his nifty starts of plays into fully highlight worthy moments for him.

He'll be a key to this series. If he does wake up, even for a game, the Bruins won't be ready, nor do they have an answer. If he doesn't the Bruins will be able to focus on shutting down the two other key forwards.

6 GP, 0G, 0Pts, -2. What are you going to do about that?


Jaroslav Spacek

The Bruins can't have missed Subban, they'll know he's coming. Hamrlik and Wisniewski are a top pairing that has an excellent record, but it may be how the third pairing anchored by Jaroslav Spacek fares that tips the defensive balance.

Last playoffs Spacek took on Alexander Ovechkin and won. With a lesser assignment, he must do the same again. The Canadiens can't afford to have Bruins pluggers doing anything other than wasting time on the clock while being on for Habs goals.

If Spacek is healthy (and we think he is), then he is also rested. His haphazard approach to defending is still effective because he can use a partner well and play a system. If Jaro can put in some minutes to take the Michael Ryders of this series out of the picture, then the Bruins have the scoring crunch -- something which should distract them plenty from physical play and punishment and all that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reasons For Bruins Bitterness

As the playoffs near and some of you are wandering through the city on the Charles or maybe in a week or so back in Montreal, you'll run into people from Boston, maybe players, maybe just fans, and come out from the encounter wondering how anyone in the world got so bitter.

It's a good idea to understand a few things about the Bruins before this happens:

1. 25 years in a league with just 6 teams – 0 Cups

We may not think of the Bruins as the weakest of the Original 6 teams now, but their record during the span when only 6 teams played certainly challenges that. During that time, they did make it to the Finals (won a playoff round) four times, only to lose each time to guess who?

Any rational fan can do the math and work out that the Bruins did not make any hay while the sun was shining. None at all. You might be bitter too if you realised you'd thrown in your lot with a team that will always be behind the teams you hate in total Stanley Cups. (It doesn't help that the situation in your second favourite sport is identical)


2. Scoring records, revolutionary talent – 2 Cups

Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito come in at around the same time (along with expansion) to save the Bruins from a a 1960s without playoffs. The team wins a Stanley Cup in 1970 and prepares to settle in for a decade’s worth. 1971 they are upset. 1972 they recover. 1973 upset again, this time for good. New dynasties cast a shadow over the Bruins.

Making hay when the sun was shining really was not this franchise's strength. Despite themselves, they won two, but anyone can see how a fan watching these players would have expected more.


3. The need to fight for fans

Boston has 4 major sports franchises. All are relatively successful and so in competition for hearts and minds. Football is just football, so even though the Patriots weren’t always good, the Bruins needed to remember they weren’t football. Boston’s measuring stick against New York is in baseball. The Celtics are basketball royalty. The Bruins needing to find fans somewhere look to appeal to the fans who like the crasser side of the sport.

Hence the Big Bad Bruins. A team made for a niche of fan support. The bitterness comes with the niche in some cases, and then when the popularity spills over, I'd think the bitterness about always playing 4 skill-less goons must wear.


4. Regular season tease

A lot of division titles over the past 35 years have translated into a few heroes and a couple of final appearances, but also a lot of playoff goats and disappointments. The fans of Boston would probably trade a lot of those Art Ross, Norris, Vezina, Jennings, Calder and Adams trophies for credit towards a trophy they could talk up a bit more.

Being Cinderella is fun. Not so much being Cinderella's older and supposedly more eligible sister. The Bruins have spent many seasons beating the eventual Eastern Cup challengers all season long, that it's no wonder there's a bitter fan here and there.


5. Men who are wrong about nearly everything support their team

Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, the men behind the random idea generator on HNIC and the comedic punctuation for Saturday night hockey in Canada support the Bruins. Men who find bad ideas and bad contracts like moths to a flame. Wouldn't you be perturbed too, if you agreed with them?


6. Wearing Yellow

They know they can call it gold. They all know we can see it's yellow.



To the average Bruins fan it must seem like a cloud hangs over them at all times. Only this can explain the penalty calls, the career-ending injuries, the rotten luck that has kept them from winning a Cup. When they look up at the cloud, the sickening darkness is only punctuated by flashes of bleu, blanc, rouge. This we must understand.

So the next time you are called a "Wicked Retard" or a "Douchebag" by the fan in Black and GoldYellow spare a thought for the embattled mind behind the angry eyes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Boston's Cherry-Picking Season Is Over

Third-ranked Boston. 103 Points. 246 GF, 195 GA.

Powerhouse.

Or not?


The Boston Bruins did a classic job on this season. They got the points where they should, they scored in bunches and they rode the best save percentage of all time to place 3rd in the East.

The stats that look unbeatable, and maybe feel unbeatable if one only chooses to remember the final meeting between these particular teams, only look that way thanks to the placement of more than a few cherries.

A look at their record broken down in a few ways:

Vs. Eastern Conference teams: 38-18-8
Vs. Western Conference teams: 8-7-3

Vs. Eastern Playoff teams: 16-11-5
Vs. Western Playoff teams: 3-6-2

Vs. Eastern Non-Playoff teams: 22-7-3
Vs. Western Non-Playoff teams: 5-1-1

Vs. Playoff teams: 19-17-7
Vs. Non-Playoff teams: 27-8-4


More often than not, when faced with a team that proved themselves over a season to be of superior calibre, the Bruins would lose the game. They lost 24 times in 43 meetings in fact, Their record is like that of a team that lost six 7-game playoff series 3 game to 4.

Oh, but they won games. A ton of games against feebler opposition. 27 wins out of a possible 39.


In regular season percentages, this shows that the Bruins were a 0.744 team against non-playoff opposition and barely middling (0.523 with OTLs credited) against decent opposition. In the more unforgiving playoff win-lose method, they are a 0.690 team against weaklings and a weak 0.442 against opposition that is still alive now.

This is classic cherry picking and it shows up the Bruins as a real challenge to the Cup, in my opinion. It's one thing to impress against the Islanders and quite another to put up results against the contenders.

This is not to say that the Bruins didn't best some playoff teams in a season series -- they did. But they were essentially 0.500 against Eastern playoff teams and poor against the West. Part of their problem right now is their poor record was in large part fuelled by the 2-3-1 showing against the Montreal Canadiens.


But don't all playoff teams do this?

I haven't done the full analysis. But I did look at one other team (guess which?)

Vs. Eastern Conference teams: 36-21-7 (38-18-8)
Vs. Western Conference teams: 8-8-2 (8-7-3)

Vs. Eastern Playoff teams: 17-11-4 (16-11-5)
Vs. Western Playoff teams: 6-2-1 (3-6-2)

Vs. Eastern Non-Playoff teams: 19-10-3 (22-7-3)
Vs. Western Non-Playoff teams: 2-6-1 (5-1-1)

Vs. Playoff teams: 23-13-5 (19-17-7)
Vs. Non-Playoff teams: 21-16-4 (27-8-4)


The Habs were actually better against teams that eventually made the playoffs than against those that didn't -- handy when those that made the playoffs are those left to be played. Where the Bruins cherry picked their way to a deceptive points total, the Canadiens total actually belies some of the underlying achievements.

The playoffs are the great equalizer, they say. And a playoff series begins a fresh season. This may be so, but coming in wouldn't you rather be supporting the team that has shown it can win a lot of hard fought games with tough opposition than the one who took the easy lobs and fluffed a lot of the sterner tests?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Game #82

Habs Play Tight Game; Let The Real Season Begin!

Details



Date: 9/4/2011
Opponent: Maple Leafs
Location: Toronto

Win: 4-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Reimer (L)

Habs goalscorers: White, Gionta (2), Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Kessel



Play of the game


Price made an incredible save on a goal that wasn't, but could have been. The refs went upstairs on a puck that may well have crossed the line. The official call, however, was that it stayed out and that was because of the work that Carey did. He somehow got his hand on the puck which was rolling on the line and managed to take his hand out of the net as the rest of his body found its way in. It was a truly acrobatic play and one of Price's best saves of the season.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Ryan White
Who knows what role Ryan will play in the playoffs, but he showed his coach that he was ready if needed. He scored an early goal and then went on to get in a fight and make 4 hits (led the game) and did it all with the least amount of ice-time of any player on either team.

Michael Cammalleri
Mike didn't score tonight, but certainly got enough chances to show that he is ready to go. In fact, I think that he got the most quality chances of any Hab other than Gionta. It should be interesting to see if he can elevate his game to the same level that he did last year.

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
Two goals for Brian tonight and I guess the biggest shock was that he didn't have more. That gives him 29 goals on the year which is not only what we expect from the captain, but also what we need. Pleks, Camms and Andrei can all score, but Gionta shouldn't be forgotten as one of, if not the, most potent threat on the team. It was a good first year as captain for Brian, next up is his first playoffs.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK's ready, don't you think? He is the type of player that lives for big games and I am sure that he can't wait for next week. He played the most of any Hab tonight and his 7 shots led the team by 3. I am positive that he'll be back with Gill, so the question is whether Spacek is in and is so, who is out?

James Wisniewski
I liked the Wiz's play tonight. It was a nice reminder of the type of player that we have on our hands as I think it is a treat to have such a high-quality replacement. I am not sure how many games he has left in a Habs uniform, but 16 wins would sure be nice.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey played a good game and made a few great saves. His season wraps up with pretty impressive numbers, the type of numbers that we haven't seen for years. It wasn't all good, however, as his puck-handling almost cost him and the goal was a bit weak. Luckily he has learned to shrug off mistakes, so weak goals don't seem to phase him. If he can keep mistakes down though, then this could be another enjoyable run as I don't see many cracks in him at all.


Comments


Well, that's that, 82 games up, 82 games down. It was a nice way to end the year in that we got a win, Toronto got a loss and we avoided any major knocks. All in all it was a good season, 96 points is a good result. I wouldn't say that we are miles behind the top teams and considering that we are relatively healthy (forget the big 3 injuries) we have a certain amount of depth that I am happy about. It will be a potentially dirty series with Boston, but if we can score and score early on them then they will change their style. When that happens they start trying to score and forget the rough and dirty stuff; that is generally when we can better them. Price is the key, but with players like Subban, Wiz, Gill, Gio, Pleks, Kostitsyn and Cammalleri I feel that we have enough options. It will be good to get a few days rest this week, because we all know how tiring another 2 months of hockey watching can be!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Game #81

Meaningless Game Has Exciting Finish

Details



Date: 7/4/2011
Opponent: Senators
Location: Ottawa

Loss:2-3 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Auld (L)
Opposition Goalie: Anderson (W)

Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Spezza, Butler, Kuba



Play of the game


Kostitsyn made a great play to keep the play alive towards the end of the game. Had he not raced over to support the puck the game would have been over. Instead it got to Pleks behind the net who went to Wiz at the point. Then, all of a sudden, it was back on Andrei's stick. He then made a brilliant pass to Cammalleri who tied the game up with a perfect shot.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
Mike is hot and he showed that with another great goal. It was a very typical game, however, for him as there were some bad passes and bad moments in there with all of the good stuff. This is what we need and expect though and I am happy with that.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei was our best forward tonight and it was never more evident than on the tying goal. That play shows why he has gone from no PP time to a lock to be on the ice in tight situtations. His 6 shots led the team as he played the closest to the way I want our forwards to play next week.

Brian Gionta
I felt that a lot of the players didn't go too hard tonight. Gomez's line had their moments, but overall they can and must be better. Gionta was the best of the lot though and still had a stronger game than the rest of the forward group.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Boos for PK? I hate that good players get booed - it happens in Montreal and apparently happens elsewhere. But, at least we know that he gets them because he is good - it is a way for other fans to acknowledge good play. Tonight he played a good game and looks ready for the playoffs.

James Wisniewski - Game Puck
James carried the load tonight for his team. He played over 25 minutes of reliable hockey and finished at +1. His 2 points are good, but just made him that much more expensive as he now has over 50 (51) points. He has got the job done all year and I am excited to see him play in the playoffs; we'll worry about next season in the summer.

Goaltender

Alex Auld
3 goals on 32 shots isn't bad, more like average. This wasn't his best game, but he got a point and allowed Carey to rest, so it wasn't all that bad. Hopefully that will be the last time we see Auld for a long time, because if that is the case it will mean that Price is playing well and at this point that is what we'll need to go anywhere.


Comments


I made the trip down to Kanata tonight with a few friends and what we saw was what one may expect to see from 2 teams that are presently certain of where they will be next week. Montreal played a smart, conservative game in which they were more interested in staying out of trouble than winning. Ottawa had their moments, but you could tell that the players wouldn't have minded had they lost. The Canadiens, I thought, outplayed Ottawa early, but there were bad passes and sloppy plays over the place. What they got was what they wanted I think, though - 1 point and a chance to leave the arena as healthy as they came.

They walk away from Ottawa as a team that didn't give too much effort, but with a better hold on 6th place. In fact, a win on Saturday would clinch us 6th and would give us an impressive 96 points. I think, however, the main goal has to be to stay safe and to stay relatively rested. A win against Toronto, though, in Toronto would be a good way to end ours and especially their season. I can't believe that we have already played 81 games and that the playoffs are just around the corner. Our team has come together and seems ready, though. Markov, Gorges and Pacioretty are all dearly missed, but I think that the rest of the guys are good enough to do what last year's team did. That doesn't mean that I think they will go as far as they did and I would be surprised and very happy if they did, but I do think that we have enough of the right pieces to compete this spring. It all starts with Price and the D, as it does every year, and we have one game to get ready for the real deal and to iron out any kinks.